Question: Should a municipal court judge in New Jersey be allowed to moonlight as a standup comedian?
Answer: It depends. Is he funny?
OK, presumably the New Jersey Supreme Court will have a more nuanced response in the case of South Hackensack Municipal Court Judge Vince A. Sicari. But frankly, we're not so sure that this case requires a more nuanced response.
Sicari, under the stage name Vince August, has long moonlighted as a standup comedian in New York City clubs and on television. He appears regularly on "ABC's "Primetime: What Would You Do?"
His case goes back to 2008, when the Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities told him he could no longer continue to perform as a comedian while serving as a municipal court judge. The committee reaffirmed its decision in 2010, and this week Sicari made his case before the state Supreme Court.
New Jersey's full-time Superior Court judges, Appellate Division judges and Supreme Court justices are not allowed to have any outside income. That makes sense. But municipal court judges are part-time. Most, like Sicari, also work as attorneys in private practice. They are allowed to have outside sources of income.
And Sicari maintains that he keeps his two occupations entirely separate, never mentioning that he is a judge while on stage, and never doing lawyer jokes or jokes about the legal system. The Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities, however, contends that his work as a comic could "negatively affect the dignity of the Judiciary."
The committee needs to lighten up.
Sicari is willing to accept restrictions on the location of his performances and on avoiding any content regarding the legal system. But he makes only $13,000 a year as a municipal court judge, and his work as a comedian provides a significant portion of his income.
This seems like an odd battle for ethics watchdogs to pick. Municipal courts are often rife with abuse - such as favoritism for the politically connected, and judges who impose stiff fines to generate municipal revenue and please the elected officials who appoint them.
But a judge who works as a standup comedian?
If working as a private attorney is not a conflict for a municipal court judge - and it isn't - we can't see how cracking a few jokes is a problem.
As long as they're funny.